Article published Sunday, October
15, 2006 Fascinating path to a
conviction Book is an evocative report
on the trial of a priest for murdering a
Shame & Secrets chronicles the events
leading up to the 2006 imprisonment of the Rev.
Gerald Robinson, 68, a Toledo Roman Catholic
priest currently serving 15 years to life for
the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl.
( THE BLADE
SHAME & SECRETS. By David Yonke. Continuum.
240 pages. $26.95. A joke in the publishing
industry has it that three ingredients for a
bestseller are royalty, sex, and the Church. Which
means a sure-fire opening line is "'Get your hand
off my knee!' said the queen to the archbishop."
The subtitle to Blade religion
editor David Yonke's evocative Sin, Shame &
Secrets is: "The Murder of a Nun, the Arrest of a
Priest and Cover-up in the Catholic Church." Is
that sure-fire or what?
Sin, Shame & Secrets
chronicles the events leading up to the 2006
imprisonment of the Rev. Gerald Robinson, 68, a
Toledo Roman Catholic priest currently serving 15
years to life for the 1980 murder of Sister
Margaret Ann Pahl.
The nun was killed, in what was
described as a ritualistic slaying, on the day
before Easter Sunday. Her body was found in the
sacristy of the chapel of Mercy Hospital, and
suspicion focused on Father Robinson, one of
Mercy's two chaplains.
One might be led to assume that
the "Cover-up in the Catholic Church" was
responsible, at least partly, for the fact that it
took more than 20 years for some facets of the
case to be brought to light.
There is a deputy police chief
who happens to be Catholic and does not seem
interested in taking a closer look at Father
Robinson as a suspect, who indeed seems to stymie
his department's investigation. There is the
Toledo Roman Catholic Diocese, which stonewalls
when it comes to releasing information about
Father Robinson. There is at least one "witness,"
who when questioned, answers only minimally,
rather than volunteering information later seen as
relevant, because after all, who could suspect a
priest of committing murder - especially of a nun
and in such a scandalous fashion.
But there is also a miasma of
horror, disgust, and doubt, the result of
accusations of priestly pedophilia and satanic
sex, torture, and slayings (strong stomach needed
for reading) that continued to surface until a
cesspool overflowed, and the diocese, the Church,
and the Toledo and Lucas County law enforcement
agencies were forced to listen - and to act.
The Church was compelled to
acknowledge events it had avoided. The diocese
paid almost $2 million in damages to those who
claimed sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and
members of law enforcement agencies, some of whom
recalled all too well the open wound of Sr.
Margaret Ann's unsolved murder, recognized a
pattern and, armed with ex-post-facto forensic
tools, reopened the cold-case file.
It is obvious from reading Sin,
Shame & Secrets that Yonke followed events
closely. Almost too obvious: The earlier part of
the book would have moved faster and been easier
reading without redundancies, extraneous matter
(do we really need to know the phone number that a
police detective dialed?) and groundless
extrapolations. (How did the author know that the
killer's mind "was a dull roar, like a freight
train was roaring through it" or that the killer
was "whispering in Latin" as he repeatedly stabbed
But eventually, one is carried
along by events. And where one might consider the
accounts of satanic cultism as irrelevant and mere
sensationalism, it is obvious that not only did
the accusations of priestly involvement in
sadomasochistic actions have a bearing on events,
but it is clear that rumors generated an
atmosphere that lent itself not only to
titillation but even, some might say, to a sort of
The trial seems to have left
several questions - such as the motive for the
killing - unanswered. But, as one of the assistant
prosecutors said, "the state did not have to prove
a motive just that Father Robinson had committed
the crime." Testimony was given by enough top
forensics experts to satisfy the most rabid fans
of CSI and Cold Case.
The defense raised some points
about reasonable doubt, which there might have
been. DNA found on the nun's body was not Father
Robinson's. Whose was it? And what of the
dark-complexioned man seen in the hospital
corridor that morning? Was he ever found or his
Objectively, had Father Robinson
been arrested and tried at the time of the murder,
odds are - and, according to the book, the
assistant prosecutor said as much - that he would
have been acquitted. However, a German proverb
says that God's mill goes slowly, but it grinds
fine: The jury took only six hours to find the
With the publication of Sin,
Shame & Secrets, and bearing in mind the
legendary news media byword "If it bleeds it
leads," movie and TV miniseries are sure to
Oh, and by the way, a heroic,
dedicated missionary nun in Africa was killed in a
recent outbreak of Islamic anti-Catholicism. Will
a book be written about her life and death?
Probably not: no sex or satanic rituals involved.
Javan Kienzle is the author of
"Judged by Love," the biography of former Detroit
priest William X. Kienzle, author of "The Rosary